After a late Lionel Messi free-kick managed to get Barcelona out of jail against Villarreal, as La Liga action returned in 2017, Luis Enrique’s squad were left feeling as though they had been cheated out of the opportunity to win.
Normally, an equaliser at the end of a tight contest can hold a joy equivalent to picking up three points, but two seemingly obvious penalties that weren’t given their way have left Barça feeling sour. Once again, it provides another excuse for them not to look at themselves earnestly in the mirror.
As Gerard Pique made his way towards the tunnel post-match, presumably still in the heat of the moment, the Spain international briefly stopped and took a moment to look up into the stands.
“Have you seen that? Yes, you!”
Pique shouted while pointing up into the gods, as reported by ABC. The man widely acknowledged to have been on the end of such gestures is Javier Tebas, LFP president, one of those required to take a look at a supposed conspiracy against Barcelona this season – which exists according to Pique.
At a time where the standard of refereeing in La Liga could certainly do with being placed under the microscope, such comments are devaluing what needs to be an honest and factual conversation stemming from realistic complaints. “We want to play football and not roulette, which is what this refereeing causes,” Pique previously explained in the mixed zone after Barcelona’s first-leg defeat against Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey.
After being awarded 24 penalties in their last 61 La Liga fixtures, while having just one given against them, you would be forgiven for thinking that Lady Luck is already smiling on Luis Enrique and company. The reality is that these factors which are outside of Barcelona’s control are not going to be affected by post-match tirades and pointing an angry finger at ‘the man’. After Pique’s comments were denounced by the relevant refereeing bodies, his actions may well have a subconscious effect in the opposite direction.
Finger pointing Barcelona need look at themselves rather than elsewhere
Lionel Messi has been the most important man in a Barcelona shirt this season, with Andres Iniesta offering a solid contribution since returning from a long-term injury, but as a collective the Blaugrana haven’t been good enough. Falling to third in the table in the process, this much is evident.
The likes of Lucas Digne, Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer are all averaging below a 7.00 average rating, as the jury remains out on the club’s summer transfer business. Despite spending big to add some strength and depth to the squad, on a game-to-game basis there is nothing present on the bench to really mix up a game that isn’t going Barça’s way.
The summer was very much about plugging the gaps in a brilliant squad that had already achieved great things, rather than purchasing players in a bid to give their new teammates immediate and undeniable competition. Perhaps, therefore, it isn’t all that surprising that they have been stagnating so far this campaign by their usual high standards.
Denis Suarez has been an afterthought, playing narrowly over 600 minutes in the league, with Andre Gomes’ high pass completion of 88.7% and his shots per game of 0.6 illustrating what has been true of his form so far for his new club. He has been a mindless passenger in games, recycling possession and doing little more than an out-of-sorts Sergio Busquets at the base of midfield.
Aside from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, the next highest top goalscorer for Enrique’s side is Rafinha with five, a man who has played just 509 minutes across the whole league season so far. A two-man threat is much easier for other sides to prepare to play against, rather than the devilish front three and roaming midfield support characteristic of their treble-winning season.
Arda Turan has had his moments, admittedly mainly in the Champions League, while Ivan Rakitic has spent some time recently in and out of the first-team squad, but the way that Enrique’s side are transitioning upfield isn’t allowing for midfielders to have a profound impact aside from breaking opposition lines or changing the tempo of the attack.
Refereeing decisions have been an unwanted pinch of salt thrown into Barça’s open wounds, but simply taking the agitant away will not allow the wounds to heal untended.
Only Lionel Messi and Neymar have been able to offer over an average of two key passes per game in the Spanish top-flight, with Sergi Roberto the next man to cling onto their coattails at a rate of 1.6. There is a dearth of creativity from the midfield three, with nobody linking midfield to attack convincingly save for Andres Iniesta.
Barcelona are looking stale, playing one-dimensionally and not offering a tempo or fluidity that enables their full-backs to play a more killer role in the final third. Jordi Alba only had regular influence at the left byline during a 3-0 win over struggling Osasuna. The cracks in their performances are as evident as the inadequacies of the refereeing have been.
It is natural, therefore, that in order to scrape results at the end of tepid possession-based football, that they have to call on a man from another dimension entirely. Refereeing decisions have been a high-profile hindrance for Barcelona of late, but this is something that is being suffered by the league as a whole, rather than a systematic attack on one club.
Pique told reporters that Barcelona won’t win the league playing as they are, back in late November, but nothing has really changed on a long-term basis in terms of performances since then.
Rather than pointing fingers and looking for conspiracy theories, both the Spanish defender and his teammates would do better to examine themselves thoroughly and hope that the refereeing association follows suit.